Recently, I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop on Black excellence in Indiana. While I was researching and preparing for the workshop, I was reminded of just how complicated the concept of Black excellence can be. It is complicated because on one hand, non-Black individuals let bias and racism minimize the existence of Black excellence, and on the other hand, internalized racism serves as a barrier for Black people to realize Black excellence in themselves and others.
These two perspectives really overshadow the reality that we all should embrace — that Black excellence of the past, present and future lives here — right here in Indiana. Allow me to share my thoughts further.
As we round out celebrating Black History Month, we have been reminded of the amazing accomplishments of some Black Americans. While this is great, the sentiment does not escape me that Black excellence shouldn’t be restricted to being acknowledged or celebrated in February (which also happens to be the shortest month of the year). Rather, we should be continually honoring the contributions of Black Americans who exhibit excellence every day in their lives and for our communities.
I will not do justice to naming the countless individuals in Indiana whose rich contributions have made me, our state and our nation better. Just know that there is Black excellence reflected in our people throughout this entire state. The challenge, though, is that this excellence has been minimized by the bias and racism that permeates our society. Non-Black individuals who occupy spaces and places of power can elect to acknowledge, promote, defend or support Black excellence.
Right now, we are experiencing the attempt to even determine what about our culture and others is considered appropriate for the classroom — a censorship of Black experiences and excellence! In some ways, non-Black individuals attempt to define what Black excellence is. It can be thought of as an anomaly or even as exceptionalism. Janice Gassam Asare writes how Black exceptionalism can be conceptualized: “It’s the notion that black people who are educated, smart, articulate, poised, and basically every other positive adjective you can think of are atypical or rarities among the general black population.”
This is particularly damaging because when there is a perception of Black excellence being rare or atypical, it leaves little room for the countless others who exude this excellence to be acknowledged.
This same notion can be internalized by Black people, too! Ever heard of the “crabs in a barrel” mentality or the statement “she think she all that”? Well, those are examples of how the internalization of racism can occur. The psyche tricks the Black mind into thinking that Black excellence is that rarity or atypical experience that is not accessible to every Black person — inciting jealousy, bitterness, hatred, etc.
This is a false narrative. Black excellence exists for everyone, and once you (or others) challenge the effects of internalized racism, you will see that indeed you can be excellent, too! So can your children, neighbors, partners, cousins and them.
In order for us to address the unnecessary complications of Black excellence, perhaps we can focus on these four things.
One, realize that Black excellence must be cultivated. We have a responsibility to empower and encourage excellence in our youth — they are our future firsts!
Two, simply acknowledge Black excellence, no matter how big or small. Be a cheerleader to your own and others’ accomplishments.
Three, we have to share Black excellence to everyone by using whatever platforms we have to promote it.
Lastly, Black excellence must be normalized. It is not an anomaly, but rather a common occurrence in the lives of Black people. Firsts are great, but the knowledge that more are coming is greater!
In 2022, we are yet learning of the first or the only Black person to do something excellent, and while there are reasons to cringe at that, we still must honor them. Black individuals must continue to occupy spaces of excellence and not be intimidated to do so or feel that they must withhold their accomplishments for acceptance (by Blacks and non-Blacks). So be sure to clap for your fellow Black sister or brother because one day, they will be clapping for you. Hold your head up high and be Black, be excellent, and be bold — 365 days of the year!
Dr. Khalilah A. Shabazz shares wisdom, lessons and insights on personal, social and societal issues of today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.